Just Enough

July 26th, 2013 § Comments § permalink

I’ve learned something new. That is, I have just enough.

I love learning, discovering, and understanding. Unfortunately, I’m a bit stubborn and hard-headed – not to mention redundant. Yet, when something does dawn on me, I am compelled to dig a little deeper, introspect a bit more, and sort it out better in my mind. Not only does this help me establish the certainty of the epiphany, but it solidifies the value into my being.

Last year, when things got desperate, we made a conscious effort to surrender to the financial pressures that sought to kill us. Our mortgage was worthless and required us to pay on a house that was worth only 60% of what we “paid” for it. I was making less as a paramedic than I did as a pastor – and the hours were worse. My job was killing me and killing my family. Jennifer said, “I’d rather live in a tent than continue living like we are now.” And yet, how does one step off? How do you quit the rat race?

We didn’t actually have good answers to these questions, but we knew we couldn’t stay on the treadmill of death. In processing through this, I finally accepted the idea that God is the provider of my family, not me. Of course, this isn’t the way I was raised – and it certainly isn’t a very “American” culture perception. But it is very biblical, and leads to greater serenity. There is great fear in accepting this concept. There is great uncertainty. Who doesn’t like to be in control – or at least feel like we are in control?

“We didn’t actually have good answers to these questions, but we knew we couldn’t stay on the treadmill of death.”

It took several months of healing and practice before I actually began to live a life that is compatible with this principle. Last Fall, after a few months of healing (and catching up on sleep), we sold and gave away our “stuff,” packed our remaining keepsakes into a truck, abandoned our house, and took to the road. For several months we lived with relatives and then in a loaned house. Going through that experience was painful, scary, and challenging. I learned just how invaluable my stuff was and how much I didn’t need it.

Letting GoOver the course of the past couple of months we’ve put our life back together. It’s been a very exhausting and painful few years. I’ve returned to a life of gainful employment, we now have health insurance and savings, and we’re living in a house we can call home. We are no longer homeless and unemployed.

In the process, we’ve been spending money on a lot of stuff. Granted, we’ve been buying used furniture and replacing some of our “stuff,” but nonetheless, we’ve paid out a lot of cash – for us anyway. Actually, we’ve refurnished our whole house for less than many would spend on a new TV and sound system. The best part is, we are debt free!

I’m a planner. I analyze the present, evaluate my options, and plan for the future. In this process, I’ve been thinking about some major expenses looming on the horizon. We’re going to need new tires on the minivan and I think the suspension needs some major work. I’m also concerned about the transmission and something under the hood occasionally makes a big “clunk” sound. Of course, there are always major expenses looming just under the surface – unexpected urgencies, emergencies, and other unforeseen needs. Living on the financial edge is disconcerting for a planner.

Then it hit me, our money is like manna. God is our provider and He will provide just enough for today’s needs. He tried to teach the exiled Israelites to trust Him and to never collect more manna than they could consume in a single day. In Exodus 16, they were told to gather as much as they needed. Interestingly, “some gathered a lot, some only a little. But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough.” I realized, that God, our provider, would always provide “just enough” to sustain us.

“We are no longer homeless and unemployed.”

I don’t have to be concerned about tomorrow’s expenses and needs, He will provide. He is enough to meet all of our needs – and many of our wants. In His Sermon on the Mount He tells us to not “worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts… but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.” In fact, He says, to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I’m beginning to learn and practice this. It’s a good feeling – and it’s very relaxing. He is providing just enough.

PS: This applies to time, love, relationships, and sleep too!

Five Things About Being Right

February 15th, 2013 § Comments § permalink

Cool looking chief gorillaI’ve always prided myself on being right. I don’t engage in arguments when I’m unsure of the data, and I don’t take on issues when I have no opinion. But when I know what I’m talking about, I’m willing to engage the conversation. Over the course of the last few years I’ve learned the folly of this approach.

    • First, being right isn’t always the issue. When I was learning to drive my Dad taught me how to know who has the “Right of Way.” But, he also told me there is such a thing as being dead right. I now understand that this statement applies to more than just traffic.
    • Second, it’s good to be the king. If there is someone who has power (real, imagined, or monetary) over you, they can change the rules and prove you wrong as sure anytime they desire. Too many times in the last several years I’ve had the rules changed, or I’ve been told my “correctness” is wrong.
    • Third, a new pharaoh may come to town. Twice in the last five years, I was hired by one boss and then managed by another. And just like the experience of Joseph, the new pharaoh usually doesn’t honor the promises of the old boss.
    • Fourth, there really is a good ‘ol boy network. If you’re not a part of it, life is going to be tough. If your boss golfs, and you don’t, you either need to learn to golf, or start looking for another job. If your boss likes to hang out in the bar, tell off color jokes, or prefers yes men, and you can’t abide by those values, you need to find another job. If you’re passionate about the work, and your boss is passionate about the power, there too is a difference in values that will lead to a poor relationship with your boss.
    • Finally, don’t be dead right. One hundred years from now, most of the things you think are right, will be forgotten. Let it go, move on, and let your boss be the boss.

It is my desire to quit being right and save my energy for my family, friends, and spiritual development – without compromising my values.

Legacy

July 23rd, 2012 § Comments § permalink

I ran my first EMS call in 1974 as an explorer scout. When we arrived on the scene of the car crash, the lead paramedic handed me three flares and told me to set them up down around the corner. When I walked down there, it was dark and I had no idea how to light the flares. I tried everything to get them lit, but I didn’t have a flashlight, there was no light, and I’d never lit a flare before. My biggest fear wasn’t approaching traffic, my biggest fear was not looking stupid. So, of course, I didn’t walk back and ask for help, I just figured it out and got them lit.

20 years later, in 1995, I was working as the EMS operations manager of a large, suburban fire district. I was serving on various committees, task forces, and advisory roles. I left that rewarding an successful career to pursue other avenues, but in 2010, partly due to the economic downturn, I found myself unemployed. It seemed the easiest way to find employment and keep our house was to regain my paramedic license and find EMS employment. Six months later I was employed by a large corporate ambulance transport agency.

At first it was quite challenging. Much had changed, yet much remained the same. Essentially I’d been out of the field for 20 years, though I still ran calls and did a lot of teaching in the 90s, I was mostly a desk jockey. And though I worked for a non-transport agency,  my previous experience included both air and ground EMS. The hardest part about returning was the pace. I soon learned how busy system status EMS takes it’s toll on medics and EMTs.

After getting through FTEP and settling into the role, I had a period of joy. It was really fun being back into the career I always loved. It was great to run calls again, solve problems, and take care of people with needs. But that joy quickly wore off. EMS is different now.

When I first worked in EMS, prior to the implementation of the 9-1-1 system, the ambulance company I worked for ran without first responder support. My partner and I were often the only ones on scene, and the calls seemed to go much smoother. We were able to establish rapport with our patients, comfort family members, and reduce the chaos and confusion we found. After EMD was implemented and communities decided to send firefighters as EMS first responders, things started to get more complicated on scenes.

There were attempts in the 1980s and 90s to streamline our EMS systems by awarding ambulance serve contracts and eliminating the duplication of agencies, but from what I can tell, far too few communities have accomplished this. To me, this is one of the most disappointing aspects of our current systems.

About six months ago I found myself working the graveyard shift on a system status ambulance. The county I worked in had no quarters and we covered thousands of square miles with just a few rigs. We spent the night moving from post to post. Sometimes we would be at a post for hours, sometimes we never sat still. This began to take its toll on me. I began to realize that this shift, combined with the claustrophobia of the ambulance cab, was killing me – and killing my family.

I’m convinced that system status is taking an abnormally high toll on EMS workers. The stressors of the job, considered one of the more stressful careers in the US, and the long hours, are killing our paramedics and EMTs. It’s a shame really. People come into EMS excited and with high hopes of making a difference. But after about 5-10 years, they grow demoralized and depressed. I’ve never worked with so many discouraged people in my life as I have in the last two years.

I worked hard to stay healthy, keep a positive focus, and improve the lives of my coworkers. But I’m afraid the task is too big. There are several agencies and communities around the country who do EMS really well. They not only offer quality patient care, but they treat their employees well. Other communities have not been so quick to adapt. Sure, paramedics are being paid much better than in the early 80s – back then I made $4.10 an hour and I was working one of the busiest ambulances in the country.

Somehow, our society has forgotten to take care of its EMTs and paramedics. Unless they find employment in a well-funded public agency, I would not recommend people seek EMS as a lifelong career. This pains me to say, as I love my coworkers and the job, but I don’t see changes happening anytime soon.

Last week, after a two month break, I resigned my position. I’m too old for this, and I’m not a good fit. I’m not a bad paramedic, but I wasn’t getting enough sleep. After reading this article (Life in high gear takes toll), I realized I was taking too big of a risk. If I mess up on a drug administration, which according to David Marx, happens one out of 700 times, it is my career and livelihood on the line. I know my employer wouldn’t stand behind me.

The sleep deprivation, the pressure to make scene times, the lack of quarters, and the lack of focus on quality patient care have made me realize I need to move on. I don’t know where I’m going next, but I feel peace. I would gladly work at an agency that cared about their employees, put customer service and patient care needs above the desire to make a profit, and used their resources to improve the local system.

Just like when I was a 15 year old kid, I just want to make a difference by caring for people in need. I’m not in it for the money – I gave up that pipe dream a long time ago. I just want to serve my patients and their families. It is my hope that paramedics, EMTs, physicians, nurses, and system leaders will continue to improve our fledgling profession. There is still great potential, but it won’t be cheap. It will take a great influx of energy, desire, and vision.

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